The two sisters behind London indie Hub have defied the doubters to build a successful menswear business.
In 2004, sisters Louise Power and Georgie Cook were struggling to get menswear brands on board at their new menswear indie Hub. Believe it or not, many of the brands weren’t convinced by two women running a menswear boutique. Says Cook: “I suppose it’s unusual to have two women buying menswear.”
“Looking back it was very brave of us to do that,” adds Power, before Cook finishes her sentence by saying: “A lot of menswear labels were very snobby, and there were lots of brands that we’d go in to see and we couldn’t get things. I think it was because we were women and they were thinking ‘what is Hub and who are you?’”
Fast-forward to 2011 and the sisters’ perseverance has paid off, with the London indie shortlisted for the Menswear Retailer of the Year accolade at this year’s Drapers Fashion Awards.
Hub actually began life in 1998 as a womenswear, accessories and lifestyle shop in Manchester, but relocated to Stoke Newington in 2002 following a few glasses of wine and a bit of gentle persuasion from Cook, who lived in London. “The Manchester shop was working really well, but Georgie suggested we open a Hub in Stoke Newington, where she lived. Then we were walking down Church Street one day and a shop suddenly became available. It all happened really quickly,” says Power.
The first store sold womenswear, but two years later the menswear store opened across the road, and in December a third shop opened on Ada Street in Hackney’s Broadway Market. Brand stocked across both womenswear and menswear include Barbour, Nudie, Great Plains, Wrangler, Humanoid, Swedish Hasbeens, Gestuz and H by Hudson. Their hard work has also paid off financially; today Hub boasts an annual turnover of £828,000 across its three stores for the year ended March 31, 2011, up an impressive 25% on the year before.
Menswear represents 40% of sales, and part of the menswear store’s success was its early championing of brands such as Acne and YMC, together with its backing of smaller brands like Our Legacy and Something Else. “Getting those brands on board was really quite hard,” says Power. “There was a lot of talking and they would want to sit us down and know what we were trying to do, and what other brands they would sit alongside. We gained Acne seven years ago and Folk five years ago, and I think that helped give the shop a bit more credibility in some brands’ eyes.”
Spinning a Yarn
The sisters also launched their own menswear label, Yarn, in 2009, which is designed by Power and menswear store manager Shane Kingdon, and includes ties and shirts. “We’re planning to grow Yarn. We’ll introduce a new trouser shape next season and have plans to go into knitwear,” says Power. The retailer also introduced a Hub accessories line in 2010, which includes bags and belts designed by both of the sisters and Kingdon, after failing to find a brand that satisfied a particular handwriting at the price point they were looking for.
Power says that since last season she has preferred buying for the menswear store. “Men’s knitwear [for autumn 11] was fantastic. There is a wholesome, almost Scandinavian look at the moment, teaming a skinny coloured chino with a lovely oversized jumper. Men like that and are interested in fabrics, textures, colour and subtle details,” she says.
The sisters regularly look to refresh the menswear offer each season by introducing two to three new brands, which they source via buying meetings. However, they avoid the trade shows, with the exception of Capsule in Paris, saying that the UK lacks a great menswear show. “Capsule is great because we get to see all of the brands we already stock under one roof before we go and do our buying appointments. It also has a really focused menswear offer and features brands that would actually sit alongside each other in store. Next year we plan to go to Pitti Uomo, which we’ve always wanted to go to,” says Power.
The sisters say that living locally and knowing what their customers want has been an intrinsic part of the business’s success. “The stores really are a hub for the local community and lots of our customers feel like Hub is a part of their lives. People lead busy lives and enjoy coming to an indie where they trust the buying and know that all of the scouring for the right product has been done for them. We work really hard to find the right product and our customers appreciate that,” says Cook.
Their hard work and a willingness to invest during the recession in 2009 is also paying off. Back then, the sisters launched an online store, which now accounts for 10% of total sales. “It’s hotting up. A lot of people come into the store saying they’ve seen something online, so even if they don’t buy online it brings them into the store. It’s a side of the business that we really believe in,” says Power.
Sense of identity
At about the same time as the website launch, Cook and Power enlisted the services of design agency Egelnick & Webb, which counts John Lewis, Matches and Jaeger among its clients, to develop Hub’s brand identity, help it gain more web customers and allow for growth. “They took us really seriously and saw we had a strong aesthetic that just needed polishing. They’ve helped rebrand the entire business, including our bags and receipts, which has helped tie everything together,” says Cook.
When Drapers asks the sisters what the future holds for the business, they tentatively agree that further store openings could be in the pipeline, but cautiously add that any new store would have to be in the right area. “We’ve always thought we’d have some more shops. The rebranding was the final thing we needed to do to tie everything together and allow us to grow,” says Power.
However, living locally and knowing how to serve the wants and needs of their local customers has been the hallmark of Hub’s success, so they would have to have a good feel for a location before opening another shop, says Cook. “It’s got to be right. It’s our lives too. Especially for a shop like Hub, it’s got to be the right place. I can never see Hub on a [big] high street or in a city centre. It’s got to be like it is here, a great little neighbourhood that’s really thriving and doing that independent thing well.”
2011 Hub signs up to sell via aggregate website Farfetch
2010 Broadway Market store opens
2009 Website becomes transactional
2008 Website launches
2004 Menswear store opens on same street
2002 Store relocates to Church Street, Stoke Newington, London
1998 Hub womenswear store opens in Manchester